The Shield: Season Two

The Shield: Season Two
It would be no surprise for jaded TV viewers to reject a new cop show — even or perhaps particularly if that show bills itself as "gritty" or "edgy" — since that beat has been so trodden it's become the end of the road for dramatic clichés. But The Shield, currently filming its third season while it offers its second up for DVD treatment, is not that cop show. "I'm a different kind of cop" is how Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) described his character in Season One, and for 13 searing episodes Mackey was the centre of The Shield's rotting world, one set in horrifyingly mundane, impoverished East L.A. neighbourhoods. But as much as Mackey's inappropriate backroom dealings still drive the narrative action, Season Two belongs to the show's supporting ensemble. In fact, any of its cast could be easily singled out for praise. CCH Pounder does some of her best work as Detective Claudette Wyms, the moral compass at the Barn, a converted church that serves notice to cop show acolytes of the atypical settings and situations this show explores. Her partner, Dutch Wagenbach (Jay Karnes), used to be comic relief and the precinct's punching bag, but here he shows real nuance; his sharp instincts are regularly hobbled by bouts of insecurity. Subplots, like Latino Captain David Aceveda's (Benito Martinez) run for City Council, or the religion-fuelled "sexual reorientation therapy" undergone by gay Officer Julien Lowe (Michael Jace), are all seen in glimpses by the show's fast-paced, hand-held, documentary shooting style. The style, the acting, the willingness to pull down the walls of black and white, filtering everything with tones of moral grey, all these attributes could be applied to a different cop show, one to which The Shield owes a debt and that's Hill Street Blues. Forget the butt-flashing "avant-garde" of NYPD Blue, The Shield is the only cop show since Hill Street had a similar impact: with real stories, and disturbing, not easily resolved circumstances. Shows like The Shield are made for DVD. Untethered from the false security of commercial breaks, on DVD these 13 episodes are a freight train of propulsive, shocking drama. Michael Chiklis may be the train's conductor, but it's creator, writer and sometime director Shawn Ryan who designs the route. Ryan plays a curious duck and cover game throughout this DVD, offering hints but no easy "overview" or cleverly edited "making of" to hold your hand through this maze. Instead, glimpses of work process and creative spark can be seen through features like "Wrap Day," which chronicles the last day of shooting this season, or "The Editing Room" and "Sound Surgery," which deconstruct specific scenes. But the most revealing is "Directors‚ Roundtable," in which Ryan sits with three episode directors who discuss the drawbacks and advantages of The Shield's fast-paced, hand-held, "discover the action don't plot the action" approach. It helps explain why the show is so nail-bitingly, cover your eyes intense. It won't cure that reaction, but isn't that why you're watching this instead of the comfort food that the Law and Order franchise has become? Plus: deleted scenes, season three teaser, "Raising the Barn" production design featurette, DVD-Rom. (Fox)